Sometimes it takes a bit of distance before you're really capable of seeing the whole picture. And that's particularly true when it comes to realizing just how much stress affects your body.
We live in a stressful world, whether or not we think about it on a daily basis, and that makes it difficult sometimes to see just how much stress we're experiencing. The body's very nature brings its own stress factors—from fighting gravity to pumping blood. But it's those other stress sources, which come to us in a myriad of ways—from the psychotic boss, to traffic, to bullies targeting your kids—that can take a tremendous toll on our body. Couple those daily frustrations with poor diet choices, lack of sleep and too many hours staring into electronic devices, and you've got a recipe for serious stress-related health issues.
Are any of these stress-related issues affecting you?
1. Carb addiction: When we're stressed, the body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. Its release increases glucose levels, which can make you crave unhealthy carbs. If you find yourself reaching for a cookie after your boss gives you an unreasonable deadline, try opting for a piece of fruit instead. It'll give you the carb boost you need but without the bad stuff.
2. More sick days: Cortisol impacts your immune system response, limiting your ability to fight off germs. While being home in bed for a few days might give your body the rest it needs—not just in fighting off the flu, but also in avoiding stress—frequent illnesses can make recovery times longer, meaning more stress will come as you try to get back to normal.
3. Constipation: The release of cortisone can slow down your digestive tract, leading to bouts of uncomfortable constipation. Infrequent and stressful bowel movements can increase the risk of hemorrhoids, varicose veins, indigestion, body odor and bad breath. Plus, the build-up of toxins in your colon can lead to more serious issues including colon cancer.
4. Heart disease: Increased cortisol levels have been connected with higher risk of death associated with cardiovascular disease. Adrenaline, which can also be released as a result of stress, increases heart rate and blood pressure, and can leave you feeling drained of energy.
5. Skin issues: Frequent release of adrenaline prevents blood from getting to the skin, which can contribute to acne breakouts and other skin conditions like eczema. And anyone who's ever had a huge zit on the face knows that it only creates more stress, which can cause a cycle of issues.
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6. Insomnia: With all the stress chemicals pumping through your body on a routine basis, you might find restful sleep to be more difficult. Lack of sleep has been connected with a number of health issues including weight gain and depression.
7. Infertility: The stress hormones released by your body can have a negative effect on your reproductive system, suppressing hormones that can decrease sperm count, affect ovulation and cause abnormal menstrual cycles, and can even impede your libido.
But the good news is we can take steps right now to decrease the stress in our lives. Exercise—even if it's just a walk around your neighborhood—those few minutes of movement will help decrease stress and cortisol levels.
Start a "stress diary"—noting what situations you're conscious of that cause you stress. This can help you to discern what changes you may need to make in your life to eliminate big sources of stress. And make those changes. Maybe you've go to finally admit that a job or relationship is doing more harm than good. While there's sure to be more immediate stress in leaving that situation, the long-term benefits will be well worth the move.
And look at nutritional support to deal with daily stress: herbal supplements, diet changes, even meditation can bring quick and lasting results.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Maxwell GS